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Friday, February 14, 2014

Learning Labor

by Chris Shelley

There is no question that calf survival is vital to producer profitability. As such, you’ve probably been preparing for many months, but here are some considerations and tips to help your calving season run smoothly.

The first step to successful calving management is learning the three phases of cattle labor. The following table is a basic outline of how labor generally proceeds. Keep in mind, first calf heifers will probably progress slower than older cows.

Stage 1                         Stage 2                  Stage 3
2-6 hours                      1-2 hours               Delivery of  
Initial labor to full          Calf enters birth     placenta within
dilation of cervix            canal to delivery    6 hours
Ends with
observation or signs
of water sac

Also important in normal delivery is the presentation of the calf at the birth canal. The following figure illustrates the normal anterior and posterior position of the calf.

Figure adapted from Univ. of Idaho Cow-Calf Management Guide.

If one of these two positions is not achieved naturally, it must be corrected prior to the continuation of delivery. The anterior position, with the calves head and both front feet entering the birth canal, is most desirable. If the calf is presented correctly, most mothers (heifers included) will calve without assistance. However, complication in delivery may occur so be prepared to assist if necessary. Assistance that is not needed can sometimes be harmful to the mother, the calf, or both, so become familiar with what is normal and what is not. You can correct many of the issues of dystocia, but veterinary assistance should be sought in serious or difficult scenarios.

Common reasons for assisting may include:
· Stage 1 lasting for more than 6 hours
· The cow stops trying/pushing in stage 2
· 30 minutes pass in stage 2 with no progress
· Excessive bleeding

Common equipment for calving:
· Gloves and sleeves
· Non irritating disinfectant
· Obstetrical chains and handles
· Mechanical calf pullers
· Antibiotics

For more specific information on calving contact your veterinarian or local extension office.

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